Teaching Teens Gratitude: Tough Job But Needs to be Done

While I was at a friend’s house a few weeks ago, we were chatting away as her son walked in the kitchen and grabbed a snack. He didn’t offer anything to my son who was standing right next to him– I didn’t think much about it, they were laughing and having a great time as her and I were deep in our conversation about just how hard it is to raise decent human beings.

Why parents need to teach teens lessons about gratitude

She stopped him in his tracks and scolded him for not offering any chips and soda to his guest. 

“It’s fine,” I said. “Really.” When I told her it was all right, I wasn’t so much referring to the part when her son didn’t offer to share his snack, I was trying to keep her from feeling embarrassed. I knew what was going through her head– I’d been there many times.

Her son obviously felt bad and I could tell by his reaction he simply forgot. He wasn’t trying to be greedy, he was wrapped up in the moment and their conversation.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “He is usually very good about that stuff. He’s typically not that rude.”

I had been through this many times with my kids. And it does make you feel like outsiders think you have not taught your kids any manners whatsoever.

I didn’t want her to be sorry, but of course as fellow parents, we do appreciate when we see another mother give her teen a reminder to think about others. One, because we like to surround ourselves with people and friends who share the same family values.

But more importantly, seeing another mom struggle with the same things I struggle with made me realize it is a lot of work to teach our teenagers gratitude and we are not alone, or necessary doing anything wrong.

There have been countless times I’ve asked myself if I could be doing more when I see my kids act in a way that doesn’t showcase all the tough parenting I’ve done.

Teaching kids gratitude is not something that stops after they turn 10. It’s a constant thing in their lives, and we have to keep showing up to remind them. I watch my kids hold the door open for strangers sometimes, but I have also witnessed them blow right by someone who needed help.

They are pretty good with saying “Please” and “Thank you,” but they do forget (at the most significant times it seems), and so, I have to nag and remind them about it. No one wants to raise ungrateful kids, but no one warns us it is going to be an endless job and you will question yourself all the time.

Her son not offering my son a snack, or my kids not saying “Thank you” at a restaurant when their food comes without a reminder, isn’t necessarily the cause of bad parenting.

It’s because kids forget, or have moments of thinking it really doesn’t matter.

Teens are so wrapped up in themselves and their life—I know this because I remember being one and I was far from perfect. They may be thinking about their next get together and literally space it. They may be so anxious to get into the store to buy their new sneakers they’ve been saving for, and not even see the woman in front of them with full arms who needs a hand.

I’m not making excuses for my kids, or any other kid– what I’m saying is gratitude still needs to be taught; it still needs to be practiced, even when we have our days when we feel like giving up because we believe they are never going to get it.

I know my teenagers are pretty thankful most of the time, they do forget to show it though. And it’s my job as their mother to remind them the importance of letting others know they are thankful.

Because when we continue to live in a space where we are grateful and appreciative, and aware of others, that is what grows within us; that is what we invite; that is the kind of energy that finds us– and who doesn’t want that for their children?

But most of all, showing gratitude is just the right thing to do.


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About Katie BinghamSmith

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, shoe addict and pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram .

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